Tuesday, August 22, 2017

News on Two Battery Innovations

There's news on two new types of batteries, one close to being a reality and the other a proof of concept.

First, the one that's farther along: Wired magazine recently published an interview with venture capitalist and tech innovator Bill Joy about a battery in development at Ionic Materials. It combines the "advantages of the familiar alkaline batteries we buy at the drugstore (cheap, safe, and reliable) with those of the more expensive, fire-prone lithium batteries in our computers and phones (powerful, rechargeable, and more earth-friendly)."

Batteries until now have required a liquid component, but Ionic's battery replaces that with a solid polymer that can play the role of the liquid. As a bonus, the particular polymer is a fire retardant.

The concept makes it possible to produce rechargeable alkalines and safer, better lithiums. Both, of course, still require mining raw materials and so that's a major downside from an environmental standpoint. But clearly they would be an improvement and would allow the kind of large-scale storage we need to make renewable energy possible at scale. Joy claims the batteries are only two or three years away from general availability.

The other battery innovation I recently heard of is a paper battery that's being researched by Seokheun Choi, an assistant professor at Binghamton University. The paper is coated with bacteria
and folded like origami, which improves the power output. The power comes from the microbes' cellular respiration. Each battery currently only puts out tiny amounts of power, with medical uses as a primary application, but as Choi says, "There may be a way to scale these up in the future." Currently, though, "we are building these to help save lives in rural or war-torn places."

Choi's lab is also working on textile-based batteries.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Posters for Posterity: Charlottesville 2017

For the sake of posterity, here are four posters that were used to promote the Unite the Right march in Charlottesville, Virginia, on the weekend of August 12, 2017.

This one appears to have been distributed the most widely. It uses a red, white, and blue color scheme (USA! USA!), though it's clearly based on a Nazi style that would have used black instead of blue. The bottom one-fifth is all about Confederate symbolism, but the top 80 percent goes full Nazi.

The type choice is interesting: It's a stencil style, a bit similar to Stop, the font used in Star Trek the Next Generation. Kind of ’70s techno look, heavy and masculine.

The overall design gets points for its relative simplicity, using a symmetrical arrangement. The bottom is cluttered, however. The type hierarchy is a bit weak, though not terrible. The speaker names that are printed in black have fairly bad contrast against the red background.

This poster is a mess from a design perspective. Everything wants to be important, so nothing is important, and the blue/black color combination is very low-contrast. It uses four typefaces, including a delicate brush-lettering style called Sign Painter House Script to create a headline that's weak and wimpy. Not very virile, guys! Maybe this one was supposed to appeal to the chicks, eh? I wonder if that worked.

The heroic, Aryan couple (facing left in this right-wing layout, I note) is a flipped version of a Soviet couple from a 1961 poster for the USSR's space program (viewable here), originally done in red and yellow. It looked a lot better in the original, and the clueless arrangement of the name Charlottesville on the banner adds a final insult to the general ripoff.

This poster from the Daily Stormer is the most clearly antisemitic among the four, with a badly drawn muscleman smashing the Star of David. He's faceless so you can picture yourself in his place, I guess. It's got the black and red Nazi color scheme, too. The layout doesn't give a location or time for the gathering, so I wonder if people who saw this one made it there with their torches and weapons in time.

Identity Evropa (sic) is a recently formed white nationalist group that targets college campuses, and the design of the last poster reflects that. No Nazi iconography here — just a design that could be a movie poster, maybe something for the next Superman film.

Again, it uses a simple, symmetrical design, though it probably made a better social media graphic than an actual poster because it doesn't really pop off the page. It uses two sans serif fonts (very European), with notably bad kerning in the word YOU. And again, no time or place is given.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Pittsburgh and Stephen Foster

During my recent Pittsburgh trip, I came across this statue of Stephen Foster. Until that day, I had no idea he was from there or that there was a statue of him. It's located along a major thoroughfare, right between the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. It's seen by thousands, maybe tens of thousands, every day.

I took this photo of the statue just a few days before the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, but even without that as background, I knew the statue was, shall we say, problematic. What's up with having an old black man sitting at Foster's feet, barefoot, playing a banjo? Jesus, people.

The statue was commissioned in the late 19th century and unveiled in 1900. A local newspaper editor, T.J. Keegan, was part of the design committee, and suggested the final rendering because he imagined Foster “catching the inspiration for his melodies from the fingers of an old darkey reclining at his feet strumming negro airs upon an old banjo.”

Here's some of what's been written about the statue and those words.

A recent piece from The Root, titled The most racist statue in America is in…Pittsburgh, and it’s the most ridiculous magical Negro you’ll ever see, was written by a black Pittsburgh native. Here are a few of his thoughts:

…there are times when…racism is so scenery-chewing and over-the-top ridiculous…that you suspect it was devised in a “racism factory.”....
In a 22-word span [the quote from the newspaper editor]
1) incorporates the always underrated “darkey” (which has a much racister sting to it than plain ol’ “nigger”),
2) uses “negro airs”—a phrase I wish I had heard two years ago because that’s totally what I would have named my daughter, and
3) explicitly depicts Stephen Foster literally stealing ideas from black people.

The statue stands just for you to say, “Here’s this world-famous musician snatching songs from this old nigger no one gives a shit about.” And this magical Negro exists just to feed Stephen Foster money, like goldfish crackers fed to a real, actual goldfish.
A 2010 story, from Pittsburgh's weekly City Paper, is called The city's most prominent memorial to Stephen Foster continues to offend many. This story tells us that Black Pittsburghers have organized for years to have the statue moved to a less prominent location or taken down. Or even put into historical context with a plaque. But nope. Nothing's has happened.

Another story published since the Charlottesville debacle is from the main daily newspaper, the Post-Gazette. It tells us the statue was among the first depictions of an African-American in public sculpture in the country (well...yay for that?), and that it’s “the only image of a black person in an outdoor setting in Pittsburgh” to this day.
“It’s the single most offensive display of public art in Pittsburgh, hands down,” said Paradise Gray, a hip-hop activist, musician and writer. “It permanently depicts the black man at the white man’s feet…. He’s doing what the music industry does today: He’s got a slave playing the music, and he’s going to end up with the copyright.”
A second local artist, Ricardo Iamuuri Robinson, is quoted as saying he’s “currently developing an art project which would feature a live banjo concert at the statue” with original compositions written “from the perspective of Uncle Ned. I’m working on songs to share the perspective that this is a pretty honest sculpture as far as articulating power relationships. But I was going to tap into Uncle Ned’s humanity and explain his discontent.”
Members [of the city commission reviewing the statue] offered mixed views on what should be done with the statue, though there appears to be little appetite for leaving it as is.
Searching this subject, I see multiple news stories from the area since Charlottesville. Pittsburgh appears to be talking seriously about this statue once again. Maybe the city will finally listen to its black residents and remove it, one way or another.

Some writers I came across attempted to defend the statue by saying it portrays Foster with a character from one of his songs, "Uncle Ned," but there’s no mention in those excruciating lyrics of Ned playing a banjo or even singing songs. He was a toothless, bald field hand… is the fiddle and bow mentioned in the song's chorus supposed to belong to Ned? Maybe, but if so, then why does the statue show a banjo?

The lyrics as Foster wrote them (viewable on this University of Virginia site) are written in supposed black Southern vernacular. They’re all about Ned’s physical appearance and how the white massa and missus cried when he died, and — of course — sprinkled liberally with the N word. A revised set of lyrics (on the Song of America site) cleans all of that up (“nigga” becomes “field hand,” “good niggas” becomes “good men”). And suddenly instead of hearing about missus’s pale face, we get a reassurance that Ned has “gone to a place where he’s free.”

That certainly wasn’t in Foster’s lyrics or in any act by the Christy Minstrels, who popularized many of Foster's songs.

Why revise and sanitize lyrics like this? They should be left to rot.


Some details about Stephen Foster that I didn’t know (drawn from his Wikipedia page)…
  • He died in 1864, during the Civil War, obviously, at age 37, after a fall caused by a fever. (Or maybe caused by heavy drinking. His story has been cleaned up by his brother, who was the executor of his estate.)
  • His work was part of black-face minstrel acts right from the start of his song-writing career. His first published music was a collection called Foster’s Ethiopian Melodies and included songs later made famous by the Christy Minstrels.
  • Soon after that publication, he signed a contract with the Christy Minstrels and wrote “Camptown Races,” “Old Folks at Home” (Swanee River), “My Old Kentucky Home,” and “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” for them, among other songs. The Christy Minstrels were from Buffalo, New York, and mostly performed in the North, including a seven-year-solid stint in New York City — a fact that comes from their Wikipedia page, in case anyone was thinking minstrel shows were a thing of the South.
  • Foster never lived in the South and visited only once, by riverboat to New Orleans, on his honeymoon. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Learning, Frozen in Time

The University of Pittsburgh's campus is centered around a giant building called the Cathedral of Learning. It's the tallest educational building in the Western Hemisphere and the second tallest gothic-styled building in the world.

With more than 2,000 rooms, the building houses a number of departments plus classrooms, a theater, and many other amenities you would expect in a major university. The ground floor contains a half-acre of study space that's four stories tall, designed to look like a European Christian cathedral:

It certainly does look like a cathedral, right down to the monkish scholars decorating some of the carved benches:

The building took a long time, from its commissioning in 1921, planning and design for two years, and ground-breaking in 1926. The first classes were held in 1931, the exterior finished in 1934, and the formal dedication in 1937.

For a tourist visiting the Cathedral, a major attraction is the so-called Nationality Rooms: 30 of them, ringing the first and third floors. According to the Wikipedia entry, they had to be “depicting and donated by the national and ethnic groups that helped build the city of Pittsburgh.”

The rooms were an integral part of the building plan, with planning initiated in 1926. Foreign governments usually were involved in the funding, often with craftsmen brought from the countries of origin to do the work. The rooms usually took at least 10 years, with the first rooms opening in 1938, and new ones opening through 1957.

Early American





1948 Norwegian
1949 Italian
1952 English
1957 Irish

At that point, for some unexplained reason, there was a 20-year hiatus. The Wikipedia entry tells us, “In the 1970s, policy revisions were implemented which, retaining most of the earlier principles, utilized a broader definition of nation to include a body of people associated with a particular territory and possessing a distinctive cultural and social way of life. This allowed the creation of the Armenian and Ukrainian rooms prior to their establishment as independent nations following the collapse of the Soviet Union, as well as allowing for the installation of the African Heritage Room.” Not to mention “Israel Heritage.”

About 10 years after that change, a new set of rooms, located mostly on the third floor, started to open and continues today:

1987 Israel Heritage
1988 Armenian
1989 African Heritage
1990 Ukrainian
1996 Austrian
1999 Japanese
2000 Indian
2008 Welsh
2012 Turkish
2012 Swiss
2015 Korean

The Swiss room, one of the most recent additions.

The Turkish room, also fairly recently completed.

The room designs are supposed to portray aspects of the particular culture before the year 1787, when the university was founded. Yet they include nations that didn't exist then (for instance, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, which were both part of the Austro-Hungarian empire at that time, if I'm not mistaken), rather than the ethnicities of those countries. I wonder how the Slovaks and Czechs, or the Bosnians, Serbians, Croatians, etc., feel about being lumped together like this for all eternity?

The "Yugoslav" room.

The omission of an African-descended room until the second round of rooms is another eyebrow-raiser. Not to mention that all of Africa is mooshed into a single room, of course. The room tries to make up for it with symbolism from a range of groups across the continent (described on the Wikipedia page), but it's weird and, frankly, offensive to have a giant continent in one room and something like Switzerland in another the same size.

The fact that there's an "Early American" room and an English room is another questionable decision. Basically, once a room gets built, it never can be removed, no matter how wrong it becomes in light of more correct ways of thinking or boundary changes. And, finally, there's no room included for the people who lived in the Pittsburgh area before Europeans arrived.

The premise of the Cathedral of Learning seems to be that knowledge is static instead of a changing, living thing. From the overtly religious symbolism of the building itself and the study hall to the mothball-worthiness of some of the rooms, to me it communicates the exact wrong thing about what should be (and I assume is) an institution of higher learning and research.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Pittsburgh: Mexican War Streets

Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods, they say, and it's true. The part of the city north of the Allegheny River was originally called Allegheny City, until it was annexed against the will of its residents in 1907. One hundred and ten years later, they still resent it, it seems, and people from the original parts of Pittsburgh (south of the Allegheny and north and south of the Monongahela) don't seem to know much about the area except that the Steelers and Pirates have their stadiums there.

Just north of the Pirates ball park is an area called the Mexican War Streets. To an outsider like me, it started out as just a colorful name, derived from its street names, which generally refer to Mexican War battles or generals. But it's also a great example of human scale and historic preservation, originally built between the mid- and late 19th century.

This poster for the area's 48th-annual home and garden tour gives a flavor of what you'd see if you walked its narrow streets:

When I say the streets are narrow, I'd guess they varied from a bit less than 30 feet wide (with parking on both sides) to what the rest of us would call an alley, maybe 12 feet wide, with no parking and steps jutting out from the the doors. These passages also had street signs and house numbers on them, and alternated with the wider streets.

The houses vary from one to three stories, with most at two stories. Brick and wood, with just a bit of stone, are the predominate building materials. I love the green shutters inside the upper windows on this house:

(Sorry for the bad light on that shot.)

There's lots of painted brick as well:

This tiny garage with apartment above is not typical, but very cute:

The few business buildings I saw had all been converted into housing, which is unfortunate:

This one contained at least three housing units, though, so at least they're making good use of the space.

As I walked the streets, I found it was common to see a single word attached to the houses, at least few times per block. Mostly they are three-dimensional and screwed into the walls:

But some were window clings:

I don't know what these are about or how this trend got started, but it was fun to see.

A few more details from the area:

Some beautiful lettering accompanying an ornate doorknob.

Stone-carved street numbers, predating the use of sand-blasting as a technique.

And finally, just a funny scene I saw: a Blue Apron food delivery box was left outside a blue door. The note in the window above the white doorknob says, "Please put packages inside door. Thank you." Oops.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

There Is a Line

I don't know about you, but I've been thinking a lot lately about the ACLU's defense of the "Unite the Right" march in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the general argument that tolerant people need to be tolerant of intolerance...that more speech is always better, no matter what it is.

My perspective (which I've touched on before) can be summarized in this illustration of philosopher Karl Popper's thoughts on the subject:

All of this thinking has reminded me of a section of Steven Pinker's book The Better Angels of Our Nature that I didn't manage to quote in my many posts about the book back in late 2011. In the chapter called Inner Demons, Pinker discusses the work of sociologist James Payne, who

documented a common sequence in the takeover of Germany, Italy, and Japan by fascist ideologies in the 20th century. In each case a small group of fanatics embraced a "naive, vigorous ideology that justifies extreme measures, including violence, recruited gangs of thugs willing to carry out the violence, and intimidated growing segments of the rest of the population into acquiescence (page 563).
Pinker combines that with the work of Michael Macy, et al., who explored the "Emperor's New Clothes" moment and the madness of crowds, which Pinker refers to as pluralistic ignorance. The necessary ingredient to keep it together is enforcement of the ignorance. In this scenario,
People not only avow a preposterous belief that they think everyone else avows, but they punish those who fail to avow it, largely out of the belief—also false—that everyone else wants it enforced. Macy and his colleagues speculate that false conformity and false enforcement can reinforce each other, creating a vicious circle that can entrap a population into an ideology that few of them accept individually (page 562).
In Macy's computer simulations of a society, there were
true believers, who always comply with a norm and denounce noncompliant neighbors if they grow too numerous. And there were private but pusillanimous skeptics, who comply with a norm if a few of their neighbors are enforcing it, and enforce the norm themselves if a lot of their neighbors are enforcing it. If these skeptics aren't bullied into conforming, they can go the other way and enforce skepticism among their conforming neighbors. Macy...found that unpopular norms can become entrenched in some, but not all, patterns of social connectedness. If the true believers are scattered throughout the population and everyone can interact with everyone else, the population is immune to being taken over by an unpopular belief. But if the true believers are clustered within a neighborhood, they can enforce the norm among their more skeptical neighbors, who, overestimating the degree of compliance around them and eager to prove that they they do not deserve to be sanctioned, enforce the norm against each other and against their neighbors. This can set off cascades of false compliance and false enforcement that saturate the entire society (page 563, emphasis added).
If those clustered true believers sound a bit like Trump supporters in red states... that may not be a coincidence. And the creation of online communities of white supremacists and "men's rights activists" has probably helped to create virtual versions of Macy's neighborhoods.

Disrupting this enforcement of ideology and refusing to go along with pluralistic ignorance is our duty. It is not tolerance to be tolerant of intolerance. As Son of Baldwin put it, "We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist."


Here's the list of my other posts about The Better Angels of Our Nature, all from November 2011 except the last one:

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Visiting Andy Warhol

About a week ago, I posted a self-portrait of a young artist and asked readers to guess who it was. No one got it, and I can see why. I wouldn't recognize him either.

The answer is Andy Warhol, and the city in question is Pittsburgh, which I visited recently. The Warhol museum is the largest museum in the U.S. devoted to a single artist. The part of it I enjoyed the most was the highest floor, devoted to his early years.

There were several of his art school explorations:

(The teacher noted "good drawing" on the lower right corner.)

There were several of these street scenes, drawn from life.

Warhol's earliest painting is included. It's titled "Nose Picker 1: Why Pick on Me," though it was originally titled "The Lord Gave Me My Face but I Can Pick My Own Nose," 1948 (age 20).

Another painting, titled "Three Children," hangs beside it:

Warhol left Pittsburgh for New York just after art school in the early 1950s and almost immediately became a successful advertising illustrator. According to the accompanying text,

Warhol’s professional success as a commercial illustrator was largely due to his ability to create art very quickly and his willingness to respond to the revisions clients demanded. One of the most well-known 1950s ad campaigns he helped create was for I. Miller Shoes. The idea of decorative beauty was exaggerated in almost all of these illustrations, and at times the image of the shoe became very abstract….

The panel continues:
Among the art directors with whom he worked, Warhol was known for his timid yet appealing personality. He was a quick study — given an assignment, he would turn in a brown paper bag full of drawings on the subject the very next day. His simple yet sophisticated drawing style, in contrast to the era’s burgeoning use of photographic advertising, appealed to art directors, as well as to the post-war Americans, who were becoming savvy consumers.
By the late 1950s, Warhol was employing assistants and making $70,000 a year, which is about $600,000 in 2016 dollars. (I wonder if he knew Ellen Raskin, who was also a successful New York illustrator at the time?)

I loved this drawing for "The Magic Flute":

The museum does a great job of explaining Warhol's blotted-line inking technique, including a video. Their text gives these details:
In the 1950s Warhol refined a process that he had discovered in college, creating a signature style for his illustrations with a technique known as “blotted line.” This working method combined drawing with basic print-making and allowed Warhol to repeat an image and to create multiple illustrations along a similar theme….

Warhol’s blotted line process had several complex steps. First, he drew or traced a line drawing onto a piece of non-absorbent paper, such as tracing paper. Next, he hinged the tracing paper to a second sheet of absorbent paper by taping the edges together on one side. Opening the papers like a book and using a nib pen, Warhol inked over a small section of the lines on the tracing paper. He then transferred the wet ink onto the absorbent sheet by closing the pages and lightly pressing or “blotting.” He repeated this inking and blotting until the whole drawing was transferred.

Completing a large blotted line drawing took time and multiple pressings. The method resulted in dotted, broken, and delicate lines. Warhol colored his blotted line drawings with water soluble dyes and applied gold leave. He also used hand-carved rubber stamps to create patterns, often combining both techniques in a drawing.
Warhol used this technique in some of his earlier noncommercial works as well, such as this three-panel screen:

One detail about his work that I found especially interesting was the lettering that appears in some of his earlier works. Here's the story on that:
[Warhol's mother] Julia was a highly original, though untrained, artist in her own right. Her subjects were often cats and angels… During Warhol’s early commercial years, Julia was his first assistant and collaborator. Warhol incorporated her beautiful handwriting into his design work and she began signing her son’s name to his work. Warhol also turned her handwriting into several custom-made Letraset [sheets].

From there the displays segue into the soup cans and Brillo boxes we all associate with Warhol, and there's lots of cool details to see and minor facts to learn. But it's too much for a blog post, so I'll stop there.

Oh, wait, there was one artifact on a lower floor that I just have to include. It's the original photo, with Warhol's crop marks indicated, that he used for his many famous silk screen prints of Marilyn Monroe:

If you get to Pittsburgh, be sure to visit Marilyn and Andy.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Another Statue to Remove: Albert Pike

If we’re going to be toppling statues of Confederates, it’s good to remember there’s one Confederate general with a statue in Washington, D.C. It’s located near the Judiciary Square stop on the Metro, and, as I recall when I visited in 2014, is very close to D.C.’s city hall and court house. You know, D.C. — a city that until very recently had a majority black population and where residents have no voting representation in Congress.

The statue, unfortunately, sits on Federal land and is maintained by the National Park Service. So the residents of the city have no say in its existence, as is true of so many inequities in D.C.

The Latin words “Vixit Laborum Ejus Super Stites Sunt Fructus,” which translate to “He has lived. The fruits of his labors live after him,” are inscribed below the feet of the female figure.

The man at the top of that pile of stone is Albert Pike, who was, as the base tells us in words carved on all four sides, an Author, Poet, Orator, Jurist, Philanthropist, Philosopher, Soldier, Scholar. Most importantly for the reason it was erected, though, he was also a prominent Mason. And possibly one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan. A few years after I took these photos, his list of titles had some spray-painted words added to it: Black Lives Matter.

Born in the Boston area in 1809, Pike left New England at 22 and went to New Mexico, then Arkansas. He married there and ran a newspaper. As he and his wife were in the midst of having 10 children, he studied law and took the bar at 28. They moved to other southern cities over time, including Charleston, South Carolina. Pike was part of the Know-Nothing Party in the late 1840s, but — according to the Washington Post — “left when he found the party’s support of slavery insufficiently intense.”

He became a Mason in 1850, at age 41, in Arkansas. The state's main Masonic building, in Little Rock, is named for him.

Pike was 52 at the start of the Civil War and was made a general, overseeing Confederate relations with six Native American nations. It sounds like he had no talent for command, though, and deserted (or resigned?) after losing a battle where he led native fighters and lost. He was charged with treason by the Confederacy and then later by the Union. Luckily, Andrew Johnson was also a Mason, so he pardoned Pike.

Not long after the war, he was editing the Memphis Appeal (today known as the Commercial Appeal). As the Post writer puts it, “It is during this time that he is alleged to have fallen in with the nascent Ku Klux Klan. The first ‘Wizard,’ former Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, traveled the region drumming up support for his organization. Among those so drummed, some say, was Albert Pike. Whether he did in fact join the Klan is no simple question.”

According to the Post, “Even if Pike wasn’t involved with the Klan, he did believe that the races should not mix. He was against integrating Masonic lodges.”

But here’s something Pike wrote for an editorial in the Appeal, April 16, 1868:

With negroes for witnesses and jurors, the administration of justice becomes a blasphemous mockery. A Loyal League of negroes can cause any white man to be arrested, and can prove any charges it chooses to have made against him. ...The disenfranchised people of the South...can find no protection for property, liberty or life, except in secret association.... We would unite every white man in the South, who is opposed to negro suffrage, into one great Order of Southern Brotherhood, with an organization complete, active, vigorous, in which a few should execute the concentrated will of all, and whose very existence should be concealed from all but its members. (source; this site includes other evidence that Pike was indeed a Klan founder)
Pike moved to Washington, D.C. in 1870 at age 61. He wrote a book called Morals and Dogma that is unreadable, most say, but is or was beloved by the Masons enough that they raised money for this statue within 10 years of his death in 1891. Even though they have their own bust of him in their Scottish Rite temple along 16th Street NW, where the library is also named for him. They really, really liked him.

I think Pike has enough memorializing for one man in his multiple Masonic locations. We don't need a public memorial on a street in Washington, D.C. Time for it to come down.

Pike was over 6’ tall and more than 300 pounds, with waist-length hair, it's said, though it doesn't look quite that long in this photograph.

The double-headed eagle on the banner held by the female figure clutches the words "Deus Meumque Jus," which mean "God and my right" or "God and my moral rightness," a common Masonic phrase.


Details in this post come from the Traveling Templar (a Masonic site, which insists Pike had nothing to do with the Klan), the DCist, and a 2016 article from the Washington Post.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Early Seuss on Spelling

Dr. Seuss, it turns out, had an interest in spelling reform. I recently ran across a collection of his early writings and cartoons called The Tough Coughs as He Ploughs the Dough, which contained this series of drawings and captions:

Ough! Ough! Or why I believe in simplified spelling

It was forty-five years ago, when I first came to America a young Roumanian student of divinity, that I first met the evils of the "ough words." Strolling one day in the country with my fellow students, I saw a tough, coughing as he ploughed a field which (being quite near-sighted) I mistook for pie dough. Assuming that all ough words were pronounced, the same, I casually remarked, "The tuff cuffs as he pluffs the duff!" "Sacrilege!" shrieked my devout companions. "He is cursing in Roumanian!" I was expelled from the school.

The ministry being closed to me, I then got a job as a chore boy on the farm of an eccentric Mr. Hough, who happened to spend most of his time in the bough of a tree overhanging a trough. I was watering a colt one morning when I noticed that Mr. Hough's weight had forced the bough down into the water. "Mr. Hoo!" I shouted. "Your boo is in the troo!" Thinking I was speaking lightly of his wife, Mr. Hough fired me on the spot.

So I drifted into the prize ring. But here again the curse of the oughs undid me. One night at the Garden, I was receiving an unmerciful trouncing from a mauler twice my size. Near the end of the sixth round I could stand it no longer. I raised my feeble hand in surrender. "Eno! Eno!" I gulped. "I'm thruff!" "Insults like that I take form no man," bellowed my opponent, and he slugged me into a coma! Something snapped! ...a maddening flash...and all became black. Fifteen years later I awoke to find myself the father of three homely daughters named Xough, Yough and Zough. I had become a thorough-going Augho-maniac.
Not Seuss's best verbal work, I realize, but you can see glimpses of his later illustrations (Horton, the way he renders trees) in the drawings. And he's right about the ough words, of course.


My past posts about English spelling reform.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Fish Out of Water

I was having breakfast with a friend the other day when the art on her T-shirt finally registered in my visual brain:

What a clever melding of a fish and a mandolin! The illustration gives a clear idea of the type of event this is —fun, light-hearted, and near the water — without saying a word.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Recycle to Reuse

If you don't spend much time in the countryside, you probably have no idea what working farms look like. (One of my back-burner ideas is to travel the country photographing what farms really look like. Maybe someone else has already done this.) For instance, silo storage is pretty much a thing of the past. Instead, farmers wrap their hay and silage in huge plastic bags on the ground, sometimes in long mounds, sometimes in giant rolled bales.

They do this for good reasons, which I did not know until I read this story in the Star Tribune. The plastic is safer and costs less, but it also keeps the silage fresher, with more nutrients.

It ain't cheap, even so. And it even costs money to throw it away. "With 100 cows, [one farmer] said he was spending $1,700 a year to have 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of plastic trucked to a landfill..." That's 30 to 40 pounds of plastic per cow; the amount per cow is generally about 15 to 20 pounds a year, according to another farmer.

The main focus of the Star Tribune story is an Arkansas company called Revolution Plastics, which is now collecting plastic from farmers who use at least 2,000 pounds a year. They distribute dumpsters and pick up the contents over the months and years for free. They've got about 1,100 dumpsters in Minnesota and 3,300 in Wisconsin, with another 3,000 farmers waiting for delivery.

The company then bales the plastic and ships it to a Minnesota collection hub, from which it's sent to Arkansas to be washed, shredded, heated, and finally turned into plastic pellets that have a range of product uses. The energy footprint of those pellets is less than that of "virgin" (oh, that word) plastics. One product made from the pellets is trash bags that are used in Winona County parks and the Three Rivers Park system in Hennepin County.

According to the Recycling Association of Minnesota, other companies are looking for ways to recycle the plastic discarded by the marina industry, which uses huge amounts wrapping boats for the winter.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Tiananmen Squared

As we wait to see if IMPOTUS will take us into nuclear war, some friends are visiting China. One of them posted these thoughts on Facebook, and it has resonances for me, from my interest in making cities that work for people to government suppression:

Tiananmen Square is the largest public square in the world, though a certain connotation of "public square" we have in the west is absent. It is immense, and except for a couple of heroic monuments and gardens on the perimeter, it is just a vast expanse of concrete. And people. Mao's mausoleum was closed today so we weren't even tempted. One of the photos [he posted to Facebook] shows some of the many surveillance cameras trained on the site. There is absolutely no reference to June 4, 1989, anywhere, and the word is effectively conveyed not to mention it. 
The square is obviously built for assembling lots of people to see a show of military force or to hear a message from the government. I'm sure they have similar spaces in North Korea.

Meanwhile, Indiana Republicans are expanding voting access white-dominant areas and decreasing polling places in black-dominant areas... and Alabama is purging its voter rolls just before an election. And 52 percent of Republicans polled support the idea of postponing the 2020 election in order to make sure only "eligible citizens" vote.